Big Idea: The Governing Authorities are Meant to uphold God’s Good
Intro: Morning friends and visitors my name is Matt Johnson and today we are concluding our study of Life, Liberty and the Glory of God. In this study we have been considering whether Christians should always obey the state. And today we will look at Romans 13, the number one passage on Christians obeying the government. But I intend to look at the passage in the wider context of Romans 12 and 13, which many pastors often ignore.
Well friends, this sermon series came about because (Slide 2) of Victorias “Change & Suppression Bill”, passed in 2020. Queensland and the ACT also have their own versions of this bill. It basically says no one, not even God can change a gay or transgender person. So any doctor, psychologist or Christian pastor who tells a homosexual person they need to change or they should live a celibate life, now face up to 10 years in jail in Victoria, 18 months jail in Qld or 12 months jail in A.C.T. And 4 members of NSW Parliament – Shayne Mallard, Penny Sharpe, Jenny Leong and Alex Greenwich – are committed to having a similar law passed in NSW. So when that happens, what should I do as a Christian pastor?
The way these laws have been written we still technically have religious freedom. The church is allowed to teach what the Bible says from the pulpit. But what it forbids is teaching what the Bible says in private, pastoral, one on one situations or small groups with gay men or women. ¾ of eastern Australia says that’s ILLEGAL.
Now I’m actually ministering to a gay man at the moment who is very cool and has an extremely sharp wit. He is in every sense of the word, a nice guy. Now I’m not going to use his name, but I do have his permission to speak. He has now completed Christianity Explored and I think it is reasonable to say he is interested in becoming a follower of Jesus. But he is also seriously weighing the cost of what it means to follow Jesus as a gay man.
So we’ve had a few conversations about Romans 1. We’ve also discussed pro-gay theology and what some whacky pastors teach. And we’ve also had some very honest and personal conversations – all of which fall into the category of disobeying these change and suppression laws. Now by God’s grace I’ve seen a few gay men – become Christians or recommit their life to Jesus through these honest conversations around God’s Word. So what do I do when NSW passes similar laws? What do you want me to do as your pastor?
I shared with the gay man I’m ministering to – that if we were in Victoria – it would be illegal for me to talk to him the way we’ve been talking. And he said that is madness. How is he meant to get answers about Christianity and its intersection with homosexuality if he can’t talk to anyone about it? Friends, the purpose of this sermon series was to help Christians see that there are times when must we must say no to the state (or even our employer, or our children’s school) in order to remain faithful to Jesus. I suspect, that this needs to become a normal part of Christian life in our post-Christian world. But I am scared because I think most Christians are not ready for the discomfort that will bring…
Point 1: Christians MUST hate what is Evil and cling to what is Good
Show: Rom.12:9-13 (READ)
Explain: Please notice verse 9 says that for Christian love to be sincere we must abhor what is evil and cling to what is good. Abhor literally means HATE. In order for your Christian love to be sincere there must be some things you HATE. (Now just think for a moment – what sort of things should you hate as a Christian? Go on – engage those brains – what are you meant to hate? (PAUSE) Now do you actually hate those things? Or have you become almost indifferent to things you should hate? The words “HOLD-FAST” to what is good – is like a picture of a person lost at sea – holding fast to the flotsam in order to stay afloat. Now what is “the good” you must cling to for dear life. Now this is the non-negotiable ABSOLUTE of Christianity; in order to love sincerely we must hate what is evil and hold-fast to what is good.
Yet sadly, Romans 13:1-7 (about submission to authorities) is regularly taken out of this context. I’ve taught you before – a Bible passage taken out of context is a pretext for nonsense. If you look closely Romans 13:1-7 has instructions about love (on both sides). It’s all part of a larger argument about good and evil that begins in Romans 12:9 and extends to Romans 13:10. The words GOOD and EVIL get used throughout these instuctions. Indeed, the government is meant to preserve GOOD and punish EVIL. So, taking Romans 13:1-7 out of this larger argument about love, good and evil is really poor exegesis.
What Paul is actually saying is that SUBMISSION to governing authorities is limited by God’s law of love. Love is the beginning and love is the end. So Christians must 1) ALWAYS hate what is evil and 2)ALWAYS hold-fast to what is good. Now we read the ESV version of Romans 12-13 today because it shows the words good and evil better than the NIV. The overarching principle for everything from Romans 12:9-13:10 is that Christian love is only sincere if we hate what is evil and cling to what is good in all circumstances – including submission to governing authorities.
So if you take Romans 13:1-7 out of this larger metanarrative (and then turn SUBMISSION to governing authorities into some sort of absolute truth claim) it is actually very poor biblical exegesis. The absolute is not submission to authorities, it is hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.
Now look with me again at Romans 12:17 (READ). So Paul has told us 1) to hate what is evil and 2) not to repay evil with evil – even in contexts of injustice. Paul says this to the Roman church in a passage that includes instructions about “GOVERNING AUTHORITIES”. Now remember Emperor Claudius has just kicked all the Jewish Christians out of Rome in about 49-50AD. They’ve lost their homes and lost their jobs. What’s more the psychopath Nero has recently come to the throne and he is not an easy man to respect. But Paul says; “Do not repay evil for evil.”
Now this truth applies in all sorts of CONTEXTS. Christians need to learn A) to turn the other cheek and B) pray for our enemies. But Paul adds in verse 18 “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Notice that it says “as far as it depends on you.” There are limits to peace. We should not be hostile towards governments, but we can’t control governments being hostile against the church. Sometimes governments are hostile towards the church – so Paul says in verse 21; “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This means Christians are meant to triumph over all manifestations of evil, by holding fast to what is good.
Now to separate this verse from what follows is again very poor exegeis. Romans 12:21 says the church must overcome evil, with good. So if we have an EMPLOYER or a GOVERNMENT is starting to institutionalize evil or legalize evil Christians are meant to overcome that evil by holding fast to what is good. Now sometimes that will require being 1) a conscientious objector and at other times 2) engaging in civil disobedience.
Apply: You know the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 that talks about all the people in the Old Testament who did great things by FAITH. (You know the passage I’m talking about?) Well, how many people do you think are commended for acts of civil disobedience? 1) Moses’ parents directly disobey Pharaoh’s order and hide Moses. 2) Rahab the prostitute disobeys the king of Jericho. She hides the Jewish spies, lies to the King – and yet is commended as a great woman of faith. Then of course there allusions to 3) Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar, 4) Daniel who refused to obey King Darius and 5) Isaiah who was cut in two because he refused to submit to King Manasseh.
So in at least five instances their amazing act of FAITH involved acts of civil disobedience. A Reformed Christian principle is that one passage of Scripture should never be so explained that it becomes REPUGNANT to other passages of Scripture. That means we should not make Romans 13:1-7 so ABSOLUTE that it becomes repugnant to 1)Hebrews 11, or 2) Queen Esther, or 3) the Magi, or 4) the apostles or even 5) Jesus who engaged in civil disobedience (more than once) for the sake of love. Yes, Christians should submit to the governing authorities. That’s the NORM. But governing authorities are not a law unto themselves. The rule of governing authorities is defined by God.
Point 2: Governing Authorities must Punish Evil & Bless Good
Show: Rom.13:1-4 (READ)
Explain: Now this clearly says Christians should submit ourselves to governing authorities because they have been INSTITUTED by God. But instituted by God for what specific purpose? If you look at the beginning of verse 3 you’ll find the word “FOR” and again if you look at the beginning of verse 4 you’ll find the word “FOR”. This word “FOR” links A) the command to submit in verse 1 and 2, B) with the specific purpose God has given them to uphold good and punish evil. The governing authorities are not a law unto themselves. Verse 3 and 4 make it clear governments are meant to uphold good and punish evil. And its on this premise that the governing authorities are doing what God instituted them to do – that Christians are told to submit.
Now I know some Christians read Romans 13:1 which says “for there is no authority except from God” as an expression of God’s Sovereignty. The logic then goes God is Sovereign over everything, so if God has put Nero, or Hitler or Xi Jinping on the throne – then God is Sovereign – and we should submit to their rule. That is an argument from logic. But this passage does NOT tell us to submit to evil authorities. It tells us to submit to authorities that are upholding good and punishing evil. What’s more Romans 12:21 does not tell us to accept evil, we are told to overcome evil with good. And finally, this idea God is Sovereign therefore we MUST submit even to evil authorities is a type of HYPER-CALVINISM that denies human responsibility. God’s Sovereignty should never become a foil for accepting or tolerating evil.
If you go down the God is Sovereign path in this passage it also means 1) the adulterous pastor, 2) the violent husband and 3) the sexually abusive dad have all been Sovereignly established by God and must therefore be obeyed. Now would you keep that same logic for the wife who is being beaten by her husband or the child being sexually abused by their father. God is Sovereign, he’s given you this husband or father so you’ve just got to keep submitting to the evil.
No! Christians know that authority has limits. Authority is meant to promote what is good and punish what is evil. And where governing authorities (whether government, elders in the church or husbands) start to demand 1) we participate in evil, 2) or we accept their evil or prevent us from doing the good God intends – it is right to say no.
Do you remember the story of the Jewish midwives in Egypt? SHIPRAH and PUAH were told by Pharaoh – you must kill all the baby boys, but you can let the baby girls live. It’s basically an infanticide or abortion demand. Pharaoh is telling the doctors and nurses of the day – they must be involved in murder. Now obviously God-fearing people can’t keep such laws and still call themselves Christians. So the Jewish midwives disobey Pharaoh. Now when Pharaoh summons them and asks what happened – the midwives get rather CREATIVE with the truth. They say – well Hebrew women are really quick in labor and they get away with their sons before we can get there. Now that is a lie. But this is what the Bible says about their conduct (Slide 8; Ex.1:20-21).
Apply: The point is fearing God’s law is more important than fearing mans law. The apostle Peter teaches the same thing twice in the book of Acts. Peter says; (Slide 9; Acts 4:20-21; 5:21). So yes, insofar as a governing authority is a reasonable servant of God (not perfect, but reasonably upholding good and punishing evil) – the Bible says we should submit. But it is never absolute submission. What is absolute is love, hating what is evil and holding fast to what is good (according to the Bible).
Point 3: Christians Owe Love to Neighbor, more than Anything Else
Show: Rom.13:7-8 (READ)
Explain: So do I owe A) people taxes, revenue, respect and honor OR B) do I owe people nothing except love? Which is it? What do I owe – verse 7 or verse 8? Well, the answer is “yes.” Fundamentally, you owe it to God to do good, not evil. That means verse 7 (and I’d say all that precedes it) must be read in light of verse 8. What we owe, we primarily owe to God. He created us. He saved us. He gave us hope and a future. And what God wants from all of us (including governments) is the love of neighbor, hating what is evil and clinging to what is good.
So, where governments are acting as God’s servant we pay taxes to create hospitals and roads and jails because these things all preserve good and punish evil. We also submit even when we don’t like the rules – because we understand rules are necessary. So I wish we had AUTOBAHNS in Australia, like they have in Germany. But if the Government decides the fastest I can drive is 110km – I need to respect that law because it doesn’t contradict anything in the Bible. Or, if the Government says that we are now only going to have 3 weeks annual leave, instead of 4 weeks – I may not like that. But I have to accept that – because there is nothing in the Bible that says we must have 4 weeks. But if the government says I can’t tell gay people the truth of the Bible – that is a law I have to disobey. Again, if the government says, I must let my children get gender blocking hormones OR I must conduct gay weddings OR we must accept euthanasia in Anglican Retirement Villages – well again I’m telling the government “no”, because if we don’t – we have no integrity, whatsoever.
God has given us life and liberty for His glory. God didn’t give us life and liberty so we could be happy middle-class people. Jesus died for our sins and gave us forgiveness and the gospel mandate – because the world is evil and needs saving. (GOSPEL) The only way for people to be saved is for them to hear the good news of Jesus. Judgment day is soon coming (and may in fact be closer than we think).
Soon everyone is going to answer to God for the things they have done in the body. And the only way to be saved is to put your trust in Jesus and ask God to forgive you. You should be punished for the sinful things you have done. But Jesus took the punishment for everyone who believes in him when he died on the cross. A) So, trust in Jesus death for you and ask God for forgiveness and you go to heaven. B) But reject Jesus and continue in sin – you go to hell. And any government mandate that prevents me sharing that truth or limits my ability to share that truth is EVIL. It’s not just a thing. Its not just a law. It’s evil.
And any law that directly defies God’s word – like abortion, or gay marriage, or gender fluidity or now euthanasia in Queensland being imposed on Catholic hospitals is not just a thing. It is evil. And Christians are meant to overcome evil with good. We are NOT meant to accept evil. We are meant to hate evil and hold fast to what is good. All this evil left UNRESTRAINED and UNCHALLENGED will gradually amount to THE LOSS of all religious freedom, and even life. The only way to really enjoy life and liberty (in this world) is to put God’s glory first. God’s glory is the basis of life. God’s glory is the basis of liberty.
I know many people have found this sermon series hard. But I think our world is changing for Christians much faster than we want to recognize. A heap of people in our church recently read the book “Being the Bad Guys” and everyone said it was such an important book. But I’m concerned it didn’t go far enough. What do societies usually do with people they identify as the bad guys? (PAUSE) The other word for bad guys is CRIMINALS. Unless we change and compromise and accept unjust evil laws we will soon be CRIMINALS in the eyes of the state. Now I don’t think change or compromise – on what is GOOD and what is EVIL is possible for true Christians. So in love for our church family (and I do love you) – I just want us to have thought through these issues a little bit deeper. I hope I’m wrong. I truly do. But for Christians to remain faithful to love, I think some of us are going to have to accept not only the bad guy status, but also criminal status – before Jesus returns.